On ‘Problemista,’ Julio Torres Discovered Tilda Swinton Was Not ‘This Untouchable Being in the Clouds’
ManOfTheCenturyMovie Film On ‘Problemista,’ Julio Torres Discovered Tilda Swinton Was Not ‘This Untouchable Being in the Clouds’

On ‘Problemista,’ Julio Torres Discovered Tilda Swinton Was Not ‘This Untouchable Being in the Clouds’



On ‘Problemista,’ Julio Torres Discovered Tilda Swinton Was Not ‘This Untouchable Being in the Clouds’

There’s no doubt an element of wish-fulfillment at play when you’re a debut queer filmmaker casting Tilda Swinton as the lead of your movie.

That’s the case for the 37-year-old Julio Torres, a seasoned comedian onstage and former writer of “Saturday Night Live” (2016 through 2021) and co-creator of HBO’s short-lived cult series “Los Espookys.” His new A24 comedy “Problemista,” now in select theaters before opening wide on March 22, has already grossed more than $690,000 in just a handful of theaters. He stars in the endearing comedy as Alejandro (who, like Torres, is El Salvadoran), a fledgling toy designer hustling in New York in the last few days before his visa expires and he’s sent back to Central America. Alejandro accepts an assistant job under Elizabeth (Tilda Swinton), a whirling dervish and New York art scene castaway with faded magenta hair and a short fuse who tasks him with organizing a posthumous show for her dead artist husband, now cryogenically frozen. And Torres modeled Swinton’s character on the types of toxic employers that anyone who’s tried to make it in New York as an artist knows.

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Torres wasn’t even thinking of Swinton as he wrote the movie, which shot in New York City in the COVID November of 2021. But once the script made its way to the Oscar-winning actress, it was pinch-me dream-casting. “It was not bizarre but it felt like ‘Oh, OK, I’m going down the right track,’” Torres told IndieWire. “Pieces are falling into place in a way that feels exciting and appropriate for the movie. I idolize Tilda, but when I was writing, I wasn’t doing the thing where you’re writing and casting in your mind. It felt literary in terms of I saw the screenplay as the screenplay and not as a blueprint for a film when I was writing. I wasn’t even considering directing it. That thought hadn’t crossed my mind.”

Swinton, along with “Problemista” producer Dave McCary, the husband and producing partner of Emma Stone at their shingle Fruit Tree, helped convince Torres that he should direct his own immigrant story, and not someone else. Torres shot “Problemista” between seasons of “Los Espookys,” and was originally considering co-directing an episode of the horror comedy series with co-creator Ana Fabrega before COVID got in the way, and “Problemista” shot first. (“Los Espookys” aired its last episode in October 2022 before being canceled by HBO.)

“When things started becoming real, and I heard that Tilda read the script and want(ed) in, it was like, whoa, OK,” Torres said. “I think there’s this perception that, because of her talent and because of her oeuvre, she’s this untouchable being in the clouds.” (She is, after all, the ethereal star of everything from the films of Wes Anderson to soon Pedro Almodóvar who also played the bald-headed Ancient One in Marvel’s “Doctor Strange.”)

Torres said, “In meeting and working with her, what was so incredible and a testament to her as a person, is that it really felt no different than working with the friends I made ‘Los Espookys’ with. It really felt like, OK, we’re tackling talking about a wig. Her DNA as an artist is so compatible with what I’ve worked with before.”

Torres also credited his time as a writer on “SNL” from 2016 to 2021 — including writing, yes, the beloved “Wells for Boys” sketch starring that episode’s host, Emma Stone, the Oscar winner who also produced “Problemista” — with the necessary connections that got his A24 comedy made and Torres behind his own camera.

“Through Dave (McCary, a former segment director on ‘SNL’), and frankly through ‘Saturday Night Live,’ I had a privileged look into what it takes to make something,” he said. “What’s unusual about Saturday Night Live is that a writer gets to produce it. That a writer gets to not just write it and walk away and see when it airs, but you write it, you cast it, you pick the costume, you talk to the production designer… It’s very unusual for a young writer or a young comedian with very little professional experience to suddenly be giving notes to Emily Blunt.”

Next up, Torres has a comedy series in post-production at HBO called “Little Films.” In six episodes, the series will tell the stories of the time Torres lost a little golden oyster, with Fruit Tree among the producers. Whatever that is, we’re here for it! He stars in, writes, directs, and executive-produces the show.

“From the very first time that I started doing standup, I understood and I sort of celebrated that my sensibility was going to take longer and (that) my sensibility has a smaller audience,” he said.

“Problemista” is now playing in select theaters and will expand on March 22 from A24.

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